The National Gallery holds an exceptional collection of seventeenth-century Dutch painting.
In the seventeenth century the northern Netherlands, following independence from Spain, enjoyed a period of economic prosperity. A thriving art trade developed in response to a desire by wealthy merchants to adorn their homes. Secular subjects (portraiture, landscapes, still-lifes and scenes of everyday life) were popular during what is today referred to as the Golden Age of Dutch painting.
In Amsterdam, Rembrandt van Rijn reigned as the supreme portraitist whilst in Haarlem, landscape painting flourished in the hands of Jacob van Ruisdael. Hendrick Avercamp, who spent most of his life in Kampen, specialised in animated winter scenes and Aelbert Cuyp, active in Dordrecht, created sunlit views populated with people and animals. There was strong demand for scenes depicting the lower classes, which often contained moral messages, as in Jan Steen’s amusing images. Paradoxically, elegant ‘high life’ interiors were also popular among many collectors. Johannes Vermeer in Delft and Gabriel Metsu in Amsterdam specialised in such domestic scenes, with breathtaking results.
Among the many works of the Dutch School are masterpieces such as The Castle at Bentheim by Jacob van Ruisdael, A Musical Party by Gerrit van Honthorst, Joseph Selling Corn in Egypt by Pieter Lastman, A Wooded Landscape – The Path on the Dyke by Meindert Hobbema’s and The Dilettanti by Cornelius Troost.